• Learning the Ropes

    In hospitality, you need talented people who are confident at their jobs. By Mark van Dijk
    Learning the Ropes

     As the hospitality industry moves deeper into a changing world of digital technologies, there’s one thing that won’t change: people. ‘We’re a people business,’ says Karen Borain. ‘We can talk about AI and self-service check-ins, but you could never have a tourism or hospitality industry without having people.’

    Borain is Tsogo Sun Hotels’ Training and Development manager, and people – specifically, Tsogo Sun Hotels’ people – are central to the work she and her team does. They provide and coordinate training and development for the Group’s employees, striving towards ensuring that everybody is competent and confident in doing their job, and that people are being prepared for future roles within the business.‘We try to reach every employee in a year, so that each person has some kind of learning experience,’ Borain explains. ‘We have about 6 500 people on our payroll, over 100 properties as well as our regional offices and head office, in South Africa, Africa, the Seychelles and the Middle East. Some people might do two or three training or development courses in a year, so every year we deliver approximately 12 000 courses.’

    The Training and Development team also offers courses to students and to people who aren’t Tsogo Sun Hotels employees but who work at our destinations. ‘We also serve on advisory boards for schools and universities, and we’re very involved in the industry on a broader level, too,’ she adds. ‘So our influence is not only within our own organisation, but also outside of it.’

    The Training and Development department’s instruction falls into three categories. The first group is new employees, who go through an induction programme to better understand the brand and business. Tsogo Sun has over 100 properties, so new employees need to understand who they’re working for,’ Borain says. ‘When they join us, we give them service training and explain our various systems and procedures.

    The next category is functional training, which equips employees to do their jobs well and with confidence. ‘Even if you’ve come out of hotel school and joined Tsogo at an entry-level position, we’re going to put you into a programme to train you on the systems and process controls that an employee would have to do,’ says Borain, adding that a knowledge of compliance and regulation also fits into this.

    The third type of training covers what’s best referred to as ‘soft skills’. Borain explains: ‘If you were a waiter and you became a supervisor, we would train you in supervisory skills. If you went from supervisor to manager, we would train you in management skills. But soft skills are not necessarily related to a specific job. We’re talking about a course in finance for non-financial managers, for example, or coaching skills, selling skills, service skills … all of those competencies.’

    Unlike most other corporate training programmes, Tsogo Sun Hotels’ covers both existing employees and people who don’t work for the Group. As an accredited SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) training provider, the Training and Development department works closely with tertiary education institutions such as the University of Johannesburg’s School of Tourism and Hospitality, the South African Chefs Association, Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, the National Business Initiative, and with various TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) colleges across the country. 

    The Tsogo team has a close relationship with the University of Johannesburg’s School of Tourism and Hospitality. ‘Last year was their 50th year and our 50th year, so we’ve had that relationship for half a century now,’ Borain says.

    She is quick to emphasise that Tsogo’s Training and Development team doesn’t aim to replace South Africa’s hotel schools. Instead, it supports them. ‘We take anywhere between 500 and 1 000 hotel-school students to do work-integrated learning with us,’ explains Borain. 

    ‘Remember, hotel schools’ curricula include a requirement that students do “work experience” training in the hotel environment. So whether they’re doing a diploma, an advanced diploma or a degree, those students can’t qualify unless they do practical training in the industry.’

    There’s a good reason for that. Each hotel group has its own policies and procedures, plus its own property management system for check-ins and checkouts, so hotel-school students won’t learn about these systems in the classroom. The best place to learn about them is on the job, inthe real world – and that’s what Tsogo Sun Hotels provides.

    Borain has been doing this job for a while (‘Thirty-one years this March,’ she says), and she’s seen various trends come and go. ‘Three current trends spring to mind. Firstly, a lot more people are getting qualifications at hotel schools these days, and are not only coming into the workforce with their matric, but with some kind of tertiary education too.

    ‘The second thing is generational. To succeed in this industry you have to be a workaholic, but younger people today are more interested in balance. They’ll want to work their shift and go home, whereas older management will expect them to stay on if there are still guests in the restaurant, for example. 

    ‘Thirdly, there’s a move – which is more of a slog for some people – towards digital training. I know staff enjoy doing training courses in the classroom because they get to interact with their colleagues away from their desks, and it’s difficult to move from that to a digital experience where you’re sitting at a screen working through modules. But on the other hand, the quality of digital learning is very high and very varied.’

    As you speak to her, it’s clear that Borain loves her job, and that she loves the team she works with. ‘It’s a privilege to be a trainer,’ she says. ‘If we don’t ensure that we’re providing the right training, our colleagues can’t be successful. So when people ask me how I’ve managed to do this for 31 years, I’m like, “I love it! I love what I do! It’s incredibly rewarding.”’

    One of the most rewarding aspects of the job for Borain is watching people grow and develop in their careers. ‘A great example of that is Ravi Nadasen,’ she says. ‘He joined us from hotel school, gained experience as a trainee, and today he’s our COO. We’ve been a part of that journey of his.’ 

    He’s not the only one. ‘Almost all of our South African GMs are home-grown. I can tell you stories of people who’ve started as switchboard operators or porters and are now GMs. Priya Naidoo joined the company straight out of hotel school and was a trainee and a hotel receptionist, before working her way through the ranks to become GM of marketing. James Khoza has worked with us for many years, and has gone through our training programmes. Look where he is today: the first South African-born president of the South African Chefs Association.’

    Borain and her team expect to see more stories like that as an increasing number of people come through the Group’s Training and Development system. ‘We’ve just had the wonderful experience of doing the training for hi Hotels,’ she says. ‘What an absolute delight. Quite a high percentage of the employees were first-time employees, and the enthusiasm was amazing. From the receptionist to the guy who’s going to clean the public areas, the energy was just fantastic.’

    With the right training and development behind them, one of those new recruits may one day become a general manager. Who knows? It may even be you.

    Article written by